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masthead edition


January 9, 2014

Terri L. Hicks

"The Cahaba Bridge Train Wreck"
UAB History Department


April 10, 2014

Tom Noles

"The Battle Of Horseshoe Bend"
Balch & Bingham


Emmet O’Neal Library Mountain Brook

Reception at 6:30 p.m.

Meeting at 7:00 p.m.



To Preserve and
Jefferson County

The Cahaba River Bridge Train Wreck

Terri L. Hicks

Terri L. Hicks


t was a chilly Sunday morning, two days after Christmas on December 27, 1896, and the sun was just peeking over the horizon as 31 men, women and children climbed aboard the train, Locomotive Number 40 of the Birmingham Mineral Railroad. Spirits were high as the miners, their wives and children all headed home after spending the holidays with relatives and friends in Birmingham.

The Mineral line was built in 1884 by the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Its primary purpose was to link Red Mountain’s ore mines to the various coke ovens in the surrounding areas including residents near Blocton.

Twenty-seven miles from Birmingham, at 7:50 am, Engineer Frank White realized something was very wrong as his train began crossing the Cahaba River Bridge.

Come and hear Terri L. Hicks, a member of the UAB History Department, explain what happened on that fateful day just after Christmas as the highlight of our January 9th meeting.

Dr. Hicks wrote a detailed account of the train wreck in the Summer, 2013 issue of the Alabama Heritage Magazine. She is a member of the UAB Graduate History Forum, the Oak Hill Cemetery Tour Committee and board member for Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens.


104 years ago

January 1, 1910

In the early 20th century professional planners helped lay out many of the new industrial settlements and company towns in the Birmingham District. At the same time, a movement to consolidate several neighboring cities gained momentum. Although local referendums indicated mixed feelings about annexation, the Alabama Legislature enacted an expansion of Birmingham’s corporate limits that added a half dozen suburban cities to the central city including Woodlawn, North Birmingham, Ensley, Avondale, East Lake, West End and Pratt City.

Birmingham’s population jumped to 132,685 making it one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. It served to validate the city’s moniker, "The Magic City".

Ensley City Hall, 1910

Ensley City Hall, 1910;
demolished 1928.



Message from the President

Tom Carruthers

Tom Carruthers


ow do we select speakers for the members’ meetings? Our principal goal is to pick someone who will appeal to a large number of our members, who can speak about the past or present of Jefferson County or Alabama. We begin with several plus’s: we have a good reputation; our membership is regarded as knowledgeable and interested in serious material. Our membership is also regarded as curious with a desire to learn more. So, if we hear of a speaker who knows about our area—geographically or topically—we can generally get their attention, particularly if they live in our area.

We recently made a change in procedures: we now pay a meaningful (to our lean budget) but modest stipend to our speakers. This is a little bit that helps reduce the expenses the speaker incurs to get to the Emmet O’Neal Library to make the presentation; so we really don’t get many speakers who do it for the pay.

The Jefferson County Historical Association


This newsletter is published quarterly by and for the benefit of the membership of the Jefferson County Historical Association.

Copyright © 2012 by JCHA. All rights reserved.

Visit us on line and view back issues at


Jim Bennett, Editor

Editorial Board

Tom Badham
Judy Haise
Dr. Ed Stevenson

Please send letters and notices to the editor via Email:

or mail to:
112 Meadow Croft Circle, Birmingham, AL 35242

Most of our speakers are brought to our attention by our vice president who is in charge of getting speakers, or members of our board who tell our vice president of people –or by members who have heard of someone. It helps when our speakers have been heard before by one of our members.

But the very best speakers are those who love and know the subject, and who are good at the language. I am now reading a thick, footnote filled book on the Seven Year War, before the American Revolution, and before there was much talk of British arrogance. But the author is carefully laying the groundwork for when the fireworks start; and he starts with a skirmish which George Washington loses!

If you have a suggestion for a speaker please let me or Alice or Craig or any of our board know and we will follow up. Thanks for your participation during 2013 and we look forward to future great meetings in the New Year.

— Tom Carruthers, JCHA President

“The only thing new in this world is the history you don’t know.”—Harry Truman

Meeting Notice:

January 9, 2013

Emmet O’Neal Library
Mt. Brook Library

Reception at 6:30 p.m.

Meeting at 7:00 p.m.

Party Sandwiches, Chips and Soft Drinks.

Bruno’s ad, February 1957

Bruno’s ad, February 1957.



Birmingham History Center Loses Lease, Seeks New Home


he Birmingham History Center, a project initiated by the Jefferson County Historical Association, has lost its exhibit space in the old Young & Vann Building and is seeking a new home.

The space was leased by the owners to the Alabama Media Group, parent company of The Birmingham News and AL.com which is moving from the current Birmingham News Building on Fourth Avenue, North. The museum had held the space for the last four years.

Although the History Center lease ran through December, the BHC agreed to move two months ahead of schedule. Building owners pledged a generous donation to a major capital campaign for the museum to begin early next year.

In the meantime, historical artifacts in the BHC collection, have been moved to a climate-controlled storage facility downtown awaiting the location of a new museum site.

Among potential sites examined to date are the fire-damaged Powell School, Sloss Furnace National Historic Landmark’s new exhibit center which is under construction and several vacant downtown furniture stores.

BHC Museum photo

BHC Museum photo.

The hunt for a new location and the coming capital campaign will be the museum board’s main focus in the coming year. Museum Director Jerry Desmond said hopefully the museum will be open again to the public at a new location sometime in 2015.

"A museum will not work in just any empty space, Desmond notes. "You can’t just turn a building into a museum. "There are certain requirements," he says, for a museum and for a public space: "humidity control, sprinkler system, handicap access, multiple fire exits." And no windows: "Museum people," he explains, "want black boxes; we don’t like to have light coming in because pictures and artifacts fade with light on them."

The museum has over 13,000 artifacts and more come in weekly.

"We probably have more things that we’re not showing than we’re showing," due to lack of space, History Center Board Co-President Fox Defuniak says.

While the search goes on, temporary office space for the museum staff has been moved to 1807 Third Avenue, North, a few doors down from the Alabama Theatre.

Photo by Bri Bruce, Weld for Birmingham

Photo by Bri Bruce, Weld for Birmingham.


Place Names:

How Local Communities Got Their Names


ahaba Heights grew out of a small settlement around a pumping station along the Cahaba River. In 1887 the Birmingham Water Works engaged engineer W.A. Merkle to construct the pumping station to withdraw water from the river to be sent to a reservoir on Shades Mountain and then distributed throughout the city.

The community was originally named "Merkle" for the engineer who served as the pumping station’s first supervisor after its construction. Later the settlement, facing flooding and sanitary conditions, moved a a half mile west and became known as "New Merkle". The first school opened in New Merkle in 1906 with an enrollment of 113 students.

Over time, New Merkle earned the image of being a rough, wooly community—allegedly moonshiners and bootleggers were common to the area. In an effort to change the neighborhood’s image in 1953, E.A. Hollis, principal of the school, suggested the community’s name be changed to "Cahaba Heights."

After remaining an unincorporated part of Jefferson County for many years, the citizens voted to annex most of the community into Vestavia Hills in 2002. Today, with a population of approximately 5,200, Cahaba Heights is a unique part of Vestavia Hills.

Dues Notice

Please note that if you have not renewed your membership, dues are due in January. You may send your check to:

Harry Bradford, Treasurer,
Jefferson County Historical Association,
P.O. Box 130285, Birmingham, AL 35213-0285.

__ Single $20   __ Couple $30   __ Patron $250
__ Benefactor $500
__I would also like to pledge an additional amount
$_____________ to the Birmingham History Center.

Click to Open 2014 Membership Renewal Form.

Map of Cahaba Heights.

Map of Cahaba Heights.

Cahaba Heights United Methodist Church

Cahaba Heights United
Methodist Church.


Located between downtown Birmingham and the Highway 280 corridor, it bridges Vestavia to recently annexed property in Liberty Park. Here, also US 280 intersects with 459.

The Cahaba Heights United Methodist Church, originally located in a log cabin near the Cahaba in 1879, burned twice, in 1904 and 1928.

(Cahaba Heights Community Plan, Vestavia Hills Planning & Zoning Commission, 2008; History of the Cahaba Heights United Methodist Church, Jack Brasher, 2012).

to paris with love ad 1957

February, 1957, Birmingham News




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